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Risk is inherent in the activities undertaken by engineering professionals, and members of the profession have a significant role to play in managing and limiting risk. All professional engineers are under a personal obligation to maintain and enhance their competence in their area of practice.

Engineering Council Guidance on Risk

The Engineering Council's guidance is generic, top level and profession-wide. It establishes six principles to help engineers meet their professional obligations, and to ensure that risk is an important consideration in all their engineering activity.

1. Apply professional and responsible judgement and take a leadership role

Engineers should demonstrate by example a commitment to safety, reliability and ethical conduct through the professional management of risk, from the inception of any project. Engineers at all levels should clearly demonstrate the standards by which they expect risks to be managed, thus setting an example to others. In doing so, engineers should:

  • be prepared to challenge assumptions and proposals
  • ensure that safety receives appropriate consideration
  • assess the balance of risk and reward
  • strive for all those involved to be able to identify potential problems and opportunities
  • ensure that any engineer reporting to them has the opportunity to maintain competence in the area of risk
  • lead others in improving practice

 

2. Adopt a systematic and holistic approach to risk identification, assessment and management

The factors that give rise to risk are interdependent and cannot be examined in isolation. It is vital in managing risk to be aware of this interdependency, and rather than dealing with risks one-by-one as they arise, use approaches that deal with whole systems. This requires engineers to:

  • look beyond purely technical considerations, to address non-technical factors and include human, organisational and cultural perspectives
  • make risk assessment and management an integral part of all engineering activity and decision making
  • adopt a conservative decision-making approach that is proportionate to the risk especially where a novel process is employed
  • aim to quantify the risks with as much precision as is relevant, sufficient and can be supported by the evidence
  • be responsive to changes in the operating environment
  • look for connections, patterns and relationships between risks and opportunities
    consider the role that ergonomics can play in mitigating the risk of human error
  • bear in mind that risk assessment should be used as an aid to professional judgement and not as a substitute for it
  • be aware that developing over-elaborate procedures can lead to poor compliance and undermine the wider safety culture

3. Comply with legislation and codes, but be prepared to seek further improvements

Regulations and codes are generic. They can only deal with anticipated events, and cannot predict every possible situation. Engineers should take a measured, yet challenging approach to potential risks, whether or not regulations apply. Engineers should:

  • act in accordance with codes of conduct
  • know about and comply with the law in countries where they are operating or where their products will be used
  • recognise and understand the intent behind standards and codes, and understand when their limits are being approached
  • comply with current relevant legal requirements governing engineering risk issues
  • seek advice where necessary
  • where it is reasonably practicable, seek further improvements, thus embedding a culture of seeking continuous improvement
  • be open minded and avoid hiding behind regulations

4. Ensure good communication with the others involved

Shortcomings in communication are present in nearly all failures in the management of risk. Communicating effectively with customers, clients, suppliers, subcontractors and colleagues is important to ensure that risks and their implications are understood properly. Within an organisation, risk management should be communicated as a core value. Engineers should:

  • establish strong, honest and effective two-way communication within and beyond their organisation
  • establish a consultation and feedback process about risks with all stakeholders, including the public and local community
  • express clearly the balance of risk and benefit
  • encourage an 'open reporting' approach, and a spirit of questioning and learning from others
  • avoid a 'good news only' or closed culture

5. Ensure that lasting systems for oversight and scrutiny are in place

Effective oversight and scrutiny processes are important safeguards in controlling risks. They should be challenging, and carried out with independence from those creating the risk or attempting to control it. Engineers should:

  • ensure that effective oversight and scrutiny procedures are in place
  • ensure that roles and responsibilities are understood, especially where functions are out-sourced
  • include scrutiny of culture and response to the management system, and ensure that audits are not limited to paper systems

6. Contribute to public awareness of risk

The perception of risk amongst the public is influenced by a range of factors, including emotional ones. Engineers have an important role in raising awareness and understanding about the real levels of risk and benefit, and helping to prevent mis-conceptions. Engineers should:

  • be prepared to engage in public debate on the perceived risks and benefits
  • ensure that discussion with the public includes risk and its management, and the interdependence of risk factors under consideration
  • ensure that the concepts of 'risk and reward' are communicated
  • recognise the social, political and economic implications in the risk assessment and acknowledge them publicly
  • explain the quantitative aspects of risk with clarity and supporting evidence
  • be honest and clear about uncertainties, and be prepared to challenge mis-representations

The guidance document can be downloaded from the useful link on the right. This should be read alongside risk related information produced by Professional Engineering Institutions, such as codes, policy statements or guidance of a technical nature.

Risk Guide Wallet

Background information

Some of the materials referred to in the preparation of the Guidance on Risk can be found in the useful links on the right.

Issued by the Engineering Council, the guidance replaces and updates the Code of Professional Practice on Engineers and Risk Issues published in 1993.